Over-the-Top Chocolate Experience


Starting last Friday afternoon I had a chocolate tour de force. It began with a press event and Heirloom chocolate tasting with Chocolate Noise food writer Megan Giller and the Heirloom Cocoa Preservation Fund (HCP), the organization whose logo and re-brand I recently created.

HCP is the link between farmers growing cacao and those working with the chocolate. Most cacao trees today are planted to resist infection, mold and produce as much fruit as possible. With that comes a loss of taste. Many of the large chocolate companies then use sugar, flavoring and fillers to make candy that you would want to eat. We learned about the genetics of fine cacao and how the HCP is designating trees and beans from around the world to bring back flavor for the best tasting chocolate. This in turn helps farmers by allowing them to charge more for their beans and improve their lives.

The beans are sent to the HCP from growers to be blind processed by Guittard Chocolate, analyzed by the 9 Member—international panel and possibly selected for the honor of being designated heirloom.

We tasted four bars, and my favorite was #8 from Ingemann Cacao Fino of Nicaragua.

The next day and evening were at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s (FCIA) Elevate Chocolate where I was able to hobnob with the rock stars of chocolate makers and growers. There were six educational table talks. I attended “Cacao Before the Chocolate Maker” with Emily Stone and Maya Granit of Uncommon Cacao, we tried four kinds of chocolate liquor, which is cacao beans roasted and ground (no sugar added). Amazing to clearly taste the differences between the types of beans.

The new logo for the HCP was presented along with a conversation with veteran chocolate maker Fran Bigelow of Seattle whose specialties are served in the White House. Fran was one of the innovators to first add salt to chocolate caramels as a garnish.

Of course I got to taste dark chocolate all night from companies like Guittard, Casa Luker, Dandelion, Mesocacao and Dancing Lion.

Finally, Monday evening after the Summer Fancy Food Show, I hopped on the Path to Hoboken for the International Chocolate Awards at Cucharamama and mingled with North and South America’s growers, chocolatiers and chocolate makers. There was great food, and of course “the best” chocolate out of 600 submissions. For the second year my pick was Palette de Bine of Montreal who won for three of her submissions. Congratulations to all of the chocolatiers! I am so happy to be a part of this creative community 🙂


Food of the Gods at the FFS*

FFS Blog LIAttending the Fancy Food Show at the Jacob Javitz Center for the first time Monday was an experience. I had always envisioned it would be too overwhelming — and it was — but in a good way. I decided to narrow the field by concentrating on a list of chocolate companies and in the process stumbled upon some very innovative food companies (plus really great cheese.) Two of the products that stopped me in my tracks were from the Wild Hibiscus Flower Co., which makes both whole hibiscus flowers sweetened to drop into a champagne glass or stuffed with goat cheese and a pink sea salt infused with the dried hibiscus flower.

Most of the chocolates I sampled were small, artisan, bean to bar, meaning that the cacao beans are sourced from around the world then roasted, manufactured and packaged by the maker. This is where the most innovative new business is headed. Some are all about the bean and others may be enhanced with unique flavors like the citrus fruit Yuzu.

A fun example from a regular chocolate producer, Moonstruck, uses Oregon craft beers to flavor the Ganache filling then enrobe and mold it into the shape of bottle caps (including the beer manufacturers logo on top.)

The trend I noticed in my conversations at this show and over the weekend at the Fine Chocolate Industry Assoc. and International Chocolate Award events is that many bean growers are beginning to create their own product and keep more of the profit in their own country. The three that I spoke with are from Bolivia, Ecuador and Madagascar. It will be interesting to see if the taste differs when chocolate is created at it’s source.

*Chocolate — In 1753, Linnaeus designated the tree Theobroma cacao, which translates to “cacao, food of the gods.”